Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death by Sarah Ettritch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Rymellan Series Review
I love dystopian fiction and F/F romance, so this series has been on my to-read list for quite some time. While it was totally not what I expected at all, all the surprises were good ones. The world-building is solid, the romance believable, and I was actually invested in the characters and their way of life a great deal.
One thing that makes this series stand out from the slew of dystopian fiction we have nowadays is that the characters are happy to live in their world, and are believers in it despite the challenges that represents to their personal wishes at times. They contribute to their dystopian society, but never in a way that makes them come off as unsympathetic characters. The government of Rymel, for its part, does restrict freedoms under threat of death, yet the rule of law is respected and honored. Usually in dystopian novels we see a lot of excessive abuses modeled on the worst regimes of our world (past and present), yet Rymellan society is a lot more subtle than that. Les and Mo carve out lives within the system, without any thought of changing or overthrowing the government. I think it’s the first time I’ve read a dystopian series that was not about the protagonists rebelling, and it was fascinating.
The first book is about Les and Mo through their teenage years, and the specter of the fact they know they will most likely be parted which hangs over their lives. Rymellan society practices selective breeding by partnering each person with their ideal match (called their “Chosen”), or designating them a Solitary, which means they cannot have children, but they’re freer to have whatever relationships they would like. Les and Mo know they are both Chosens, and will have to abide by whatever match the government makes for them. Their relationship becomes frowned upon as time passes, since serious relationships are discouraged when they’re expected to commit fully to their Chosen partner (or face the death penalty). The angst grows stronger until it reaches its peak at the end of the first book…
…and then we come to the second surprise of this series, one that both validates and challenges the main characters in ways I’d never imagined. For the first time, Les and Mo are given a choice by their government, but it’s a grim one indeed. I was glad to see them reject societal pressures and retain their humanity – all while remaining within the rules of Rymel. This was the hardest book in which to like everyone as they struggled with their own selfishness and jealousy, yet Les and Mo seemed at their most human during this one and the third book which follows. I liked seeing their flaws, and they seemed like more complete people afterwards.
The third book brings the other two together, negotiating the fallout from the second one and tying things up into a neat little bow where all parties find happiness with their situation through negotiation, compromise and acceptance. Which is what marriage is about, isn’t it? I left this series believing everyone was going to be just fine for the rest of their lives, and nobody seemed to be irrevocably damaged by their experiences. What a series!
There is a side-story, Story 19, which comes after the events of the three books. While good in its own right, I did find the drama to be a little contrived for the first time. Things seemed almost a bit too convenient. While it makes good points about motherhood, specifically biological children vs. adopted ones, it could be skipped if you’re not absolutely ravenous for more after the third book’s finale. I was and found the novella to be entertaining, but I’m not sure there’s much more to say about this relationship. I’d love to see more Rymellan stories, though, specifically about relationships that struggle to adhere to the Way.
I was left thinking about Rymellan society for a long time after I finished turning the pages. It’s not a world I’d want to live in, and yet, I think it probably holds allure for some people, which might be the most brilliant thing about it. It takes a lot of skill to create a world where choice and freedom is limited, but avoids falling into the trap of that system being the Big Bad Nazi-esque regime which must be overthrown. Rymel, for all its flaws, functions and flourishes as a society. Its people seem (on the outside at least) happy. It makes for an interesting moral dilemma which warrants extended thought outside of the context of the series. An absolute must-read series for anyone who likes dystopian fiction and/or F/F relationships. There is no sex in these books, so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to people of any age or sexuality who are just looking for an engaging read.